Gov. Charlie Crist tried to chip away at his U.S. Senate rival's conservative boy-wonder image during their first televised debate Sunday but failed to deliver a broadside powerful enough to level the surging Marco Rubio.
Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace's pointed questions were more effective than Crist's constant digs at exposing Rubio's shortcomings. The debate immediately turned hostile and stayed that way, suggesting that voters should brace themselves for another five months of feuding before the Aug. 24 Republican primary.
The leading Democratic candidate, Kendrick Meek, who trails the Republicans by double digits in the polls, criticized the debate's negative tone from the sidelines.
Crist and Rubio didn't agree on much during the 40-minute debate except that the race boils down to "trust."
The governor said voters can't trust the former Florida House speaker because he used his party credit card and political committees for "personal enrichment." Rubio said voters can't trust Crist to challenge the Democratic administration because he supported President Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan.
"Everyone knows you won't stand up to the Obama agenda because just a year ago you were campaigning for it," Rubio said.
Crist countered, "If trust and confidence in an individual, what they say and what they do, isn't relevant, then I don't know what is."
He tarred Rubio as a "lawyer/lobbyist" and called the $600,000 he raised for two political committees a "slush fund." The Miami Herald and The St. Petersburg Times have reported that much of the money went to reimbursing unitemized travel expenses for Rubio and his wife.
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